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The Surface Breaks

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Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding.

309 pages, Hardcover

First published May 3, 2018

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About the author

Louise O'Neill

14 books2,186 followers
Louise O' Neill is from Clonakilty, in west Cork. After graduating with a BA in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin, she went on to complete a post-grad in Fashion Buying at DIT. Having spent a year in New York working for Kate Lanphear, the senior Style Director of ELLE magazine, she returned home to Ireland to write her first novel.
She went from hanging out on set with A-list celebrities to spending most of her days in pyjamas while she writes, and has never been happier.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,882 reviews
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.6k followers
November 13, 2020
“We are women. And women are warriors, after all.”

A feminist retelling of the Little Mermaid I repeat A FEMINIST RETELLING OF THE LITTLE MERMAID


You remember sweet little Arielle, combing her hair, loved by her family, singing with the fish? Yeah, scratch that. This is not that kind of story. In this kingdom under the sea, the patriarchy is strong. Mermaids are supposed to look pretty and smile. They do not receive an education; they are shunned when they do not adhere to certain body norms and beauty standards; they are used and exploited for male pleasure. The main character, Gaia - our little mermaid, tries to escape from this prison. A year after she has saved a handsome young man from drowning in a storm, she seeks out the sea witch, gives away her voice in exchange for human legs and the chance to be with this young man forever.

Louise O'Neill is the perfect choice for this kind of retelling. I could imagine that many YA authors would have written a cute retelling with a fierce main character and happily ever after and branded it feminist. But O'Neill took it to another level. I have seen people criticise this book because the main character is not feminist enough and does not "become a feminist" until the very end. And I feel like they have somehow missed the point.
This book is deeply feminist from the very first page. The sexist and demeaning structures in our society are taken to extremes in this novel. They show a world in which women are subordinates to any man out there. This whole novel is basically one big allegory for our society. And while Gaia might not fight the patriarchy from the very beginning, her struggle and unhappiness could not be more obvious. The same thing applies to her many sisters, her grandmother, even her deceased mother. They all suffer under this predominant inequality. Throughout the novel, Gaia grows in understanding. She never knew that there was an alternative to being a quiet and obedient woman and it takes her a while to apply these new parameters to herself. We all grow up with certain ideologies fed to us by our environment. Changing an ideology is not a thing that happens overnight. And O'Neill did a great job in showing that it takes time to process and outgrow patterns that you have known all your life.

I do agree that the last part of the book was a bit of a rush. A great many things happened all at once and the story lost some of its credibility. I would love to see a sequel though. I see a lot of potential and endless possibilities for overthrowing the patriarchy.

In a nutshell: The Surface Breaks held what it promised and I loved it.

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Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
980 reviews500 followers
September 10, 2019
Everyone oversold me on the feminist part of this story.

Don’t read further on if you don’t like ranting.

Gaia spends most of her time pinning after the main boy who ends up being an ass. Her inner monologue is recognising the boy is a stranger - but her must be perfect because she loves him!!

Her father is an ass as well - what a surprise that is.
She feels sorry for herself the entire time - a lovely whining monologue.

The biggest feminist is Ceto who is the sea witch and therefore the natural enemy - any woman with powers is murdered or shunned.

Give me all the Sea With/Ursula retellings - I’m here for that.

Gaia (the little mermaid with red hair) is no feminist until the last 2 sentences.
Profile Image for Minni Mouse.
627 reviews962 followers
May 12, 2018
Unpopular opinion coming against what's being popularly hailed as a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid. I guess that means I need to stay in the kitchen and make my man a sandwich because 2.5 stars due to the amount of social political themes slapping me in the face that ruined the book for me. Fat shaming, #metoo movement, Donald Trump references, anti-men, glass ceiling, sexual orientations, patriarchy, Gossip Girl-esque social castes, feminism -- you name a hot topic and this book has a podium to sing it from. And sing it does. It's cool at first until the book overdoes it for too long and with not enough care & justice. Some themes you don't cheap out on, people, and these hot topics themes are among them.

1) A good book if you're looking for something to follow To Kill A Kingdom. This book begins in much the same way with much the same tone, which I thought meant it would be a winner.

2) Gaila has major insta-lurve for Oliver and everyone knows it. Including the author. And the author is gonna prove to us exactly how ridiculous instalove really is.

3) Decent writing. It's not rich nor particularly spectacular, but I appreciate the more mature tone it took with the fairy tale.

4) The first third was good.

1) And then I got tired of the not-so-subtle social political themes. Because while the themes aren't to the point of blatant distraction, they're relentless and full throttle barreling into the reader page after page. At some point, we get it -- the males in this story are misogynistic, simple, sexual predators, and foolishly self absorbed. No need to continue to juxtapose that with how silent and lithe and subservient the females are supposed to be, or how it's free love and acceptance all around because "love yourself, baby I was born this way," yada yada.

“You were smart,” my father says, pressing his fingertips into my shoulder blades. “You got in early. If Muirgen were not my daughter, perhaps I would have chosen her for myself.”


“Why would I be offended? Being called fat is not an insult, little mermaid. It is as meaningless as being called thin. They are just descriptions. It is your father who has deemed it to be a negative word, and a negative state of being.” She looks down at herself with obvious pleasure. “I like my body. And while I value my own opinion over those of men, it might surprise you to know that some prefer a woman of more plentiful flesh. It is nothing to be ashamed of –we all have our preferences –but they have been forced to feel ashamed even so.”


Maids have been told that being slim is as important as being beautiful, as necessary as being obedient, as desirable as remaining quiet. We must stay thin or we will die sad and alone, spin-maids of the kingdom, cast to the Outerlands because we are a drain on the palace resources. Such maids are neither mothers nor sirens and therefore are of no use to anyone.


They estimate the beauty of each passing girl, weighing it up with their friends. Listing pros and cons as if it is their decision to make, that the girls’ beauty will be determined by their opinions rather than objective fact, because they are men and a man’s word is final. The girls, knowing the men are watching them but pretending to be unaware, performing a calculated innocence they have been told they must possess.


No one is interested in me, tucked away in this corner, so I am free to study them closely. Drinking, dancing. Kissing. Couples going downstairs, the girls pretending to be reluctant. “I don’t usually do this,” they say, the boys urging them to: “Come on, baby.” When they reappear, the girls are flushed, the boys buttoning up shirts with an exaggerated emphasis, looking around to see who has noticed them.

2) And I get it -- we're not meant to like Oliver. But can we at least make him grey instead of so abhorrently pitiful and unlikeable? Can there be at least one significant male in this book who isn't evil just to be the obligatory fool to the feminist agenda, or do they all need to be sexual predators or dimwits like the Sea King, Z, Rupert, Papa Carlisle, and Oliver Carlisle?

“Grace,” he says, walking over to me. “I didn’t notice you there. Are you having a nice time?” He takes a glass from a passing waiter, but doesn’t thank him. He rarely thanks the staff, I’ve observed. All the little things that I have ignored about this man, in order to make the narrative of true love and destiny fit. I tried to make him as perfect as I needed him to be.

3) Why is this book like the Little Mermaid version of Gossip Girl? Because what up, Chuck Bass, Jenny Humphrey, Dan Humphrey, and shady rooftop party in the pilot episode.

Rupert rolls his eyes. He has a half-empty bottle of champagne in one hand, the other around the waist of a barely conscious girl. Her hair is covering her face, her skirt so short that I can see her black lace underwear. He turns to the people behind us. “Do you mind that I’ve joined my good mate George here, or would you rather be fucking bastards and insist I go to the back?” The two girls nervously murmur, it’s fine, don’t worry about it, Rupert. Not a problem.

“See?” Rupert says to George. He swigs from the bottle, the girl slipping from his grip like a rag doll. She doesn’t move as she hits the ground, her legs akimbo, showing her secrets to the world. No one goes to help her.

“What a slut,” I hear someone say. “And what is she wearing?”

“Oops,” Rupert laughs as he looks down at her. “Someone has had too much to drink, haven’t you, darling?” He drags the girl up, her head lolling on her shoulders. “Cordelia here and I are going to have a very fun night.”

“That girl is comatose,” George says. “You can’t possibly—”

He's Chuck Bass on a yacht, bro. He can do whatever he wants.

On one hand, I didn't fully agree with or love some of the "millennial hot topics" that were addressed in this book (e.g., I fully believe there's a difference between being curvy and being medically overweight 😡 so while I support embracing one's body shape of apple vs. pear vs. flat vs. boobs, I don't believe in encouraging obesity...or not taking proper care of one's body through healthy eating and healthy living.)

More importantly, however, is my resentment of hot topic themes being used for storytelling purposes AND it being used poorly. The world building was vague (are we on the set of The Little Mermaid or off the coast of the Gossip Girl spring break set?) and the character arcs were one dimensional. Forgivable under normal YA Fantasy circumstances but for example you can't write about a creepy lecher leaving bruises on young girls' arms after each night and then casually move on like you didn't just go there with sexual abuse on minors. Or references Nina's homosexuality in passing and think it gets you points for diversity and rocking the proverbial boat on inclusiveness and feminism.

*bangs head against the walls.* Millenials, I tell you. My people are the worst sometimes.
July 29, 2022
If you're looking for a feminist retelling of "The Little Mermaid" then don't bother looking for that here, because you sure as hell won't find it. Apart from the gorgeous cover( and it is beautiful) I have very little positives in regards to this book, and why on earth this is being sold as anything even remotely along the lines of feminism, baffles me no end.

The main issue that bellowed out at me after a couple of chapters, are that all of the themes are thrown into this book frightfully quickly, and then were simply not developed, so therefore, they remained pretty skeletal, and somehow pathetic. There was rape, leery males praying on minors, mention of the patriarchy, even ridiculous references to Donald Trump, and we must apparently read all of this, without being shamed for being 'fat'. Usually I care about these themes, but within this book? I couldn't care less.

The male characters reeked of misogyny, and their lives obviously only centred around their manly egos and what sits happily in their pants. The females obviously just accepted this skipping around them, and spent most of the time worshipping these men. It made me cringe when our main girl falls for Oliver, a man she has only just glimpsed at, and immediately, she is in love with him, because that is what her mind tells her, and remember, she is not supposed to have an opinion or even speak, because she is "just a woman".


All of the male characters within this book, are complete morons. There is not a single character that had charisma, intrigue or who wasn't an asshole. Come on O'Neill, it's pitiful.

Take this excerpt for instance;

"Maids have been told that being slim is as important as being beautiful, as necessary as being obedient, as desirable as remaining quiet. We must stay thin or we will die sad and alone, spin-maids of the kingdom, cast to the Outerlands because we are a drain on the palace resources. Such maids are neither mothers nor sirens and therefore are of no use to anyone."

SO, a maid that is over a certain size, is banished away from the kingdom? In order for them to be proper maids, as it were, they must stay slim, silent, obedient, admire pompous males and just stand in line. This sounds like a broken record.


Important topic themes used to tell a story, especially a fairytale retelling need to be used with care, and presicion. Unfortunately, in the case of "The Surface Breaks" these topics were used abysmally, creating a stodgy, indigestible shambles of a story. But right now, I think I'll shut my mouth, cut down my carb intake, and get myself back into the kitchen. There are dishes to be washed.
Profile Image for Patricia Bejarano.
436 reviews5,403 followers
February 24, 2019
4.5 en realidad.
ME HA ENCANTANDO. Tenía muchísimas ganas de leer este libro, pero luego entraba en Goodreads, veía las puntuaciones y dios, realmente tenía miedo a lo que me iba a encontrar.
Esta historia es un retelling de La Sirenita, y de verdad, os recomiendo muchísimo leer la historia original si podéis antes ^^
El caso es que en general, entiendo las críticas que dicen que se parece demasiado a la historia de Disney, porque es verdad. Pero en esta historia se añaden esos comentarios y esos hechos que podrían haber pasado en una historia más sentado y no tan happy flowers.
Os aviso que aunque es un libro juvenil, tiene escenas MUY FUERTES. No porque haya sexo explícito, pero sí se mencionan abusos sexuales, maltrato físico, se menciona el suicidio... y bueno, creo que hay que tener una estabilidad emocional para leer este libro, porque aunque su mensaje es MUY POTENTE, todo esto está dentro del libro y creo que es importante mencionarlo.
Soñar con la superficie es la historia de Gaia, la pequeña de las hijas del rey del mar, que cuando cumple 15 años puede por fin ir a ver la superficie por primera vez. Ella lleva soñando con subir y ver cómo es toda su vida, así que está muy emocionada con ese momento. Pero ese mismo día, también es comprometida oficialmente por su autoritario padre con Zale, un sireno de bastante edad que lleva encaprichado con Gaia desde que nació. Y a todo esto, se le acumula un nuevo sentimiento por un joven humano que salva el día que sube a la superficie. Todo esto hará que Gaia tome una seria decisión...
Sí, sé que suena mogollón a La sirenita, pero lo mejor que os vais a encontrar aquí es el maravilloso mensaje feminista (que a mí la historia, a pesar de que estuviera basada en La sirenita, me enganchó muchísimo y no podía parar de leer).
Nuestra protagonista lleva toda la vida siguiendo unas ordenes crueles. Lo delgada que debe estar, lo guapa que debe mantenerse, que las chicas calladas son las más atractivas, que tiene que obedecer todo lo que se la diga por ser mujer, que tiene que comer pero no mucho para no engordar, que debe taladrar su cola con perlas, a quién debe amar y un largo etc. Esto hace que en Gaia crezcan unos sentimientos muy profundos que lleva años escondiendo y que en algún momento tienen que explotar. Y ese es el día que empieza a sentir algo por Oliver, el chico humano al que rescata.
Sinceramente, la voz de la protagonista me ha parecido brillante y muy necesaria (quitando un comentario que hizo una vez que me dolió bastante). Y también tiene una gran evolución como personaje. Al principio tiene una actitud más inmadura, pero los hechos que van narrándose en el libro hace que madure y mire las cosas desde una perspectiva diferente.
Y que a pesar de ser muy parecido a La Sirenita, no os vais a esperar el final que tiene. Y que aunque me ha encantado el final, me hubiera gustado que fuera más largo. Un capítulo más o un epílogo... por eso mismo no tiene el 5... por el final tan apresurado :(
Me quedo con el mensaje feminista tan maravilloso que tiene, con lo crudo que es muchas veces el mundo para las mujeres y todo lo que nos queda por hacer para que esto cambie. Y que este mensaje sea tan potente en un libro de fantasía, me gusta aún más.
May 14, 2018
A retelling of Anderson's fairy tale. A feminist one. An awesome one. It was good to read about the merpeople kingdom.

As for the world-building… 'Rusalka' is a 'mermaid' in Russian. Why the author thought them ferocious or anything, beats me. Obviously, yet another author became a translation troubles victim. Yes, they supposedly all mermaids have nasty tempers… Still, they are only mermaids.

The concept of the armistice achieved by Muireann was underdeveloped. Basically, what, the Sea King needed a wife urgently enough to start a war or what their deal was?

The feminist edge was nagging. Really, you take a gal who is great and she is a better pro-feminist argument that a hundred of nagging gals this and woeing gals that. Yes, this world is an unfair place. For everyone, man or woman, child or mature, healthy or ill, wealthy or poor, of all tempers and attitudes and skin colors and circumstances and everything else. Deal with it already!

When my grandmother calls me “special”, she means “beautiful”. That is the only way a woman can be special in the kingdom.

All I know is this: when someone disappears on your first birthday, your entire life becomes a question, a puzzle that needs solving.

“But there’s no ceiling in the tower,” my father had frowned. “Only the sea above you.” I told him I didn’t mind, and I smiled at him the way he liked, like a good little girl.

Perhaps we were easy to abandon.

I watch them clapping for my beauty, as if it was something I had earned.

For the last few years, I have noticed that it is only when I am singing that I ever feel complete, as if my body and my soul have finally found one another. There you are, they whisper, curling up in each other’s arms, I’ve missed you.

I reach my hands up the surface, as if to touch the ship or the whale, but it is too far away. We are buried alive down here.

Most humans cannot believe anything that they cannot see with their own eyes, touch with their own hands.

I have never experienced such warmth. ... The cold is all I have ever known.

“Thank you, Father,” I replied, wishing that Zale had chosen someone else, anyone else. Why did it have to be me? “Thank you for bestowing this gift upon me.”

When I was a child, I would have thought it remarkable. I would have assumed that this weak reflection was all the world had to offer. But I know the truth now. I have seen how much more there is to experience than what I have been told to be satisfied with.

Winter is near, the water whispers to me, the stars forming constellations of ice on the horizon.

Every time I return, I am struck by how small our world is. How insignificant it seems, and by extension, how insignificant we are.

… it seems that rules can always be broken by powerful men. They created the laws, after all, and they uphold them, therefore they can shape them to their own desires.

This world of money and business that Eleanor thrives in seems so complex, full of knots that must be untangled, never-ending problems to be solved. Eleanor is half-nursemaid, half-warrior, manipulating, flattering and bullying those around her to get her own way. It is most bemusing.

“I only tell the truth. The things that I have seen are beyond mere exaggeration.”

People feel so free to tell me their stories, now that they can be sure I won’t repeat them. I shall grow fat on all of these secrets.

All the little things that I have ignored about this man, in order to make the narrative of true love and destiny fit. I tried to make him as perfect as I needed him to be.

“She’s wonderful, Grace. She’s so smart and interesting and she’s funny. You rarely meet girls who are funny, do you?”
Maybe because girls have been trained to laugh at boys’ jokes rather than make any of their own.

All I have ever wanted was to be touched by someone who loved me.

You have given me back my confidence. I know that you only ever want what’s best for me.”
I clear my throat. In that moment, I do not want what is best for Oliver. I want to slit his throat with a rusty blade, watch him fall to the deck and bleed out before me.

The evening plummets into night, the moon rowing across the ocean’s skin.

Voices spiking, people throwing words at each other but no one waiting for the replies. They are not having a conversation, these humans; they are merely delivering speeches, competing to see who can speak the loudest.

For I am Muirgen, daughter of Muireann of the Green Sea. I am Gaia, of the earth. And no one treats me in such a manner.

I wish I had my voice. You are not unnatural, I would tell her. Love is never unnatural, no matter whom you decide to give it to.

I live in the dark because I can be true there, and living true is the most important thing any woman can do.

The blazing sky bounces off the flat sea, rolling it purple. It is beautiful, this world. Why did I never fully acknowledge just how beautiful it was? I was so anxious to make Oliver fall in love with me so that my “real” life could begin, I forgot to stay still and appreciate what was around me. Just for a second, I breathe in the burning air, tasting the hint of coming sunshine on my tongue. (c)
Profile Image for m i l o u ✨ (Grumpy Hobbit).
464 reviews36 followers
July 15, 2019
"We are women. And women are warriors, after all."

This story is a retelling of the famous The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen and therefore this book is anything but the happy and soppy Disney movie that everyone knows and has grown up with. Therefore the story is much darker than you might expect. Do not forget how tragic this tale truly is.

Mountain View

When I first read the synopsis I was immediately sold because it had promised us that this story was going to be told through the lens of a feminist and that is something that no one has done with this famous story that I've adored since my childhood. That was surely what drew me to getting my grabby hands on this book just so I could see what it was really like.


This story starts out when the youngest daughter of the Sea King turns fifteen years old, Gaia. We are introduced to all six of his daughters and the way the monarchy works underneath the surface. It portrays a rather sinister and corrupt side to the way that royalty live there inside the palace and whatever is expected of the King's daughter and to what extent they are all being pressured. It's nothing pleasant. The women there are basically seen as a pawn that are only being good to sold to a potential suitor and to smile whenever it's necessary. They have absolutely no voices of their own.

Gaia is incredibly young and inexperienced and knows very little about anything besides the fact that she is adored by everyone because she is the prettiest and she has the loveliest singing voice of them all. Her destiny is decided for her and because she is blessed with her looks and her voice she is considered to be 'fortunate' by her father.

Gaia has never been really given the chance to be a child because she has always been told what to do. That is when during her first swim up to the surface after her fifteenth birthday she sets her sight upon this peculiar boy that she sees there. Having never experienced any form of love or a infatuation before Gaia is under the assumption that this boy happens to be the love of her life and from there on out things start to change. It drives Gaia onto a crossroad where she begins to question her existence under the surface which has completely been darkened by her foretold destiny and harassment she has to endure which nobody believes. Perhaps she'll be able to live her own life up there where the people are .

This young mermaid has gone through great length to find her inner voice and I'm rather proud of her for getting this far. This entire story is driven by a young adolescent girl who is just searching for someone who will adore her for who she truly is and not because of her status and her looks. Gaia is so young and clueless and her desires are nothing crazy for someone at her age. She is just a girl with her head in the clouds who is willing to risk everything.

Hans Christian Andersen's tale is so very dark and this book stays pretty close to that premises. It shows you that that love isn't always love, but could be simply nothing more than infatuation or lust. There is very little solace to found in this tale because it's known to be exceptionally tragic for Gaia. From the very start I felt super story for Gaia and how she wasn't allowed to do anything besides be pretty and to obey her father's orders. It makes you understand why the desire to leave the only home that she has even known was so strong.

In my eyes this is one of the best retellings of the The Little Mermaid that I have gotten my hands on. Louise O'Neill has succeeded in writing this devastating and gruesome tale that we know and to twist it with something modern which made it feel unique. Gaia is such a tragic case and she has endured her fair share of suffering for her sake of happiness. The feminism part is rather important and it shows that these women aren't as weak as the men have always believed they are. Women have their own voices and they demand to be heard!

I am certain that I'm going to be screaming about this book for a while. If are you are a fan of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen and you prefer this more sinister story than this is the book that you need to read ASAP!

Also this is the most gorgeous cover that any book will ever have!
Profile Image for Isa.
146 reviews416 followers
June 25, 2020
Este libro tiene tantos problemas que no sé ni por donde empezar... pero creo que el principal es que todos los hombres del libro son malos, malísimos y las mujeres terminan siendo las vengadoras que deben acabar con ellos.
Lo vendían como el giro feminista de la historia de la sirenita y esto no es feminista, a menos que quieran que nos sigan llamando locas, feminazis, odia hombres que quieren aniquilarlos a todos.
Es horroroso y lo peor de todo es que es una novela juvenil dirigida a un público joven, que si entiende que la relación de violencia machista de After es amor, también va a entender que el feminismo es esta aberración.
¿No se le pueden dar estrellas negativas?
Profile Image for Resh (The Book Satchel).
439 reviews495 followers
June 5, 2018
A retelling of the Little mermaid.

What to expect:
- a patriarchal under water kingdom ruled by the Sea King
- plight of women in a partriarchal world - being wed without their permission, being called unnatural, being forced to behave, being cast out as rusalkas, life of a sea witch, a human wife who is emotionally wrecked by her selfish, lazy son and her husband who was in a world of his own.
- the world building was excellent.

What disappointed me
- the mix up
Mermaids and rusalkas are from two different streams of mythology. While it worked when I was reading the book, in retrospection, I am not sure why both are shown in the same world. But I am willing to let this go for the story though.

- all men were villains. ALL.
Except for a guy, George, who kept making cameo appearances which seemed more like an answer to the question 'why are all men portrayed so evil' than for plot development. There are some books where all characters are portrayed as negative ones for sake of the plot, which adds to the intensity of a novel. It is different in this case.

- The story of the Sea witch
I wanted to know more of her story. Also I couldn't understand why she became kind of nice at the end of the book. Why not be nice from the beginning when she was convincing the little mermaid? (Oh wait, that's the story. But then why change her character attributes towards the end?)

- Where is the feminist awakening?
The book read more like a patriarchal world and the problems that the women faced, nothing more. The Little mermaid doesn't rise to an empowered state at any point. At first she is pining for the man (Oliver); then she is manipulated by the sea witch; then she loses her voice as well, so there isn't anything going on; etc etc. She just keeps getting swayed by what other people say. She does speak for her sisters at the end of the novel; but that is just a speech. Nothing gets done. Nobody is equal, nobody is trying for a world of equality. It just seemed like a good way to end the novel. And the mermaid's choice is more of an 'only choice' than a right to choice.

I feel the book is wrongly marketed as a feminist read.The star rating I have given is pretty high. But that's because it was a wonderful and engaging read. I kept turning the pages at a whirlwind speed. I enjoyed it; I'd recommend it; but not as a feminist tale. Read it without being in a mood to analyze the whole book and you will love it.

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Profile Image for chloe.
242 reviews28.3k followers
July 20, 2018
Trigger warning: sexual assault
I will talk about this more on my channel, but some quick thoughts:
I was really excited for this. I mean, a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid? Yes please!! But unfortunately I was disappointed. The only things I really loved were Ceto (Sea Witch Queen) and the feminist passages where I was like YESSSSS! e.g.:

"Being called fat is not an insult, little mermaid. It is as meaningless as being called thin. They are just descriptions. It is your father who has deemed it to be a negative word, and a negative state of being."

"There are so many mer-men who are afraid to be gentle. They are made afraid of their true selves, it is a tragedy. For what happens to men who are not allowed to be afraid? They become angry. Vicious. Feral."

"It is your father who has insisted on calling me a 'witch'. That is simply a term that men give women who are not afraid of them, women who refuse to do as they are told."
Profile Image for Katie (Melting Pages).
270 reviews63 followers
June 18, 2019
I ended up DNFing this book at about 82%, so I feel like I know what it was that I did not like about this book and I feel confident in my rating.

The synopsis of this book says that it is “reimagined through a searing feminist lens” and I do not agree with that at all. To me when a book says that it is a feminist retelling, I think that it is going to have female characters that stand up for themselves and fight for equality, but in the 254 pages that I read of this book, not once did our main character stand up for anything. Sure, the inequality that women in this society is mentioned and observed, but for me that was just not enough.

Some things that I absolutely hated about this book:

Wow your so pretty I can’t stand it, let me just constantly talk about and mention how beautiful the MC is
MC knows another character wants to sexually assault another character, and lets it happen. That is NOT feminist to me.
MC’s father says she is so pretty he should’ve taken her as his own. HER FATHER WANTS HER.
MC was super judgemental (the first time she sees a fat woman, she says “I did not know such a body was even allowed to exist”
She thinks it is completely out of the question/impossible that one of her sisters is not straight
Lots of girl hate, especially between the sisters.
Did I mention how pretty she is?
All men are sexual predators and misogynistic, felt like it was just trying to push the feminist agenda. Not all men are sexual predators or stupid.
Sea Witch was far more interesting than the MC, actually stood up for herself
One dimensional characters, very little character development
MC is abused every night by her betrothed and then it is never fully addressed
And seriously, the MC is sooooo pretty no one can believe that she is real

I have no idea if the ending gets any better, but from what I read I really didn’t like how the book just pointed out issues instead of actually addressing them or anyone trying to make a difference. The world building is also really lacking, when we get to land it mentions a civil war on the islands, but we have no clue what country we are in and what the islands are. It wasn’t until I went and read the Goodreads synopsis that I realized it’s supposed to be set in Ireland, which definitely does NOT come through in any of the settings or characters.

The writing in this was also a really big problem for me, it felt like the publisher didn’t realize that the author was only submitting a first draft and decided to publish it right away. There were paragraphs where there would be a scene with the Sea King, and then the very next paragraph would be something completely different with nothing to tell you what is going on and how you got from there to here.

I get that this was trying to be a feminist commentary on the world, but it didn’t quite accomplish that. It never tried to offer solutions or even give any sort of analysis on why this world is the way it is. It almost read like the main message was that men are all evil, misogynistic, abusive monsters and women need to stay away from them.

I could honestly go on and on about the things that I disliked about this book, but since I don’t want to write a book length review, I’m going to stop it here. This book was really disappointing for me and I honestly do not recommend this book.
Profile Image for Bibiana In Bookland.
323 reviews1,796 followers
March 4, 2019
Un retelling de "La sirenita" con un gran mensaje feminista. Me ha gustado mucho la evolución en la manera de pensar de la protagonista, a la que han inculcado desde joven que el rol de la mujer es de escuchar y criar a los hijos, pero ella es inconformista y curiosa, lo que la lleva a saltarse las normas. Aunque se me ha hecho un poco pesado cierto momento del libro, cuando está en la superficie, ese final ha sido increíble. Me ha encantado la crítica constante de la autora hacia la sociedad, ya que a veces no nos cuestionamos las cosas, ya que siempre han sido de una manera y no pensamos en el cambio, en la evolución, en la adaptación al mundo actual.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books433 followers
April 25, 2022
To be perfectly honest this book did not work for me at all. I’ve wrestled with my inner demons and locked Unnecessarily Mean Goodreads Review Charlotte deep, deep underground, but there are a lot of things that I really disliked here. If this review ever veers away from being reasonably critical and just becomes nasty, please let me know!

So What's It About?

Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding.

What I Thought

It’s easy to take shots at classic fairy tales for their Lack of Girl Power and Poor Female Role Models, and The Little Mermaid is no exception - after all, it’s the one where she literally silences herself and changes her body for a man!!! The Surface Breaks is clearly written with the intent of reworking the original tale to bear a feminist message. I respect that initiative, but I have problems with almost every part of how O’Neill went about doing this.

One of my biggest issues here is Gaia herself as a narrator. She begins the story as an incredibly cowed, self-hating girl who is powerless and indoctrinated by her culture’s sexism. That’s a pretty interesting place to start a character, in my opinion, but the problem is that O’Neill still uses her as the mouthpiece for dozens of astute observations about the injustice of sexism while she's had no character development. The mini-feminist monologues make absolutely no sense when she declares them and turns back around and silently trails her prince around his mansion, still desperate to win his love. The other problem is that she makes some of these observations specifically about the human world as opposed to the mermaid land, and there is no way that the character herself could know anything about lecherous Catholic priests or corporate harassment culture.

Some of these declarations feel rather misguided in my opinion, such as the time that a male character says women aren’t funny and Gaia reflects to herself that, well, maybe women would be funny if they weren’t taught that they had to spend all their time laughing at men’s jokes. This is such a bizarre take to me, because who on earth makes a feminist rebuttal to the Women Aren’t Funny schtick by agreeing that women are not, in fact, funny? The misguided messages carry over to the book’s handling of its themes of sexual violence and abuse; at one point the empowered, liberated Witch Queen - who acts as the main voice of morality and wisdom in the book - looks at Gaia with contempt and rhetorically asks her if she thinks she’s had it rough compared to the traumatized mermaids that the Witch Queen takes care of, concluding that Gaia doesn’t know anything about suffering. I am willing to doubt that a book should be marketed as a #MeToo read for teens when it legitimately “ranks” characters’ trauma and tells a girl who has been dealing with male violence her whole life to suck it up and be grateful that it wasn’t worse, especially after she has experienced an attempted rape mere pages before the conversation in question.

Another utterly bizarre moment is when a woman gets called crazy and Gaia says the following:

“She’s crazy, we used to say about maids in the kingdom who pursued certain mer-men relentlessly, crying and asking too many questions about where their man was and who he was with and if he had talked to any other maid that day. I’m beginning to wonder if, when we call a woman crazy, we should take a look at the man by her side and guess at what he has done to drive her to insanity.”

What I THINK this is trying to say is that sometimes abusive, toxic men paint their victims as the crazy ones and there is a long history of pathologizing women’s suffering when it actually stems from outside sources so we should take a closer look at relationships before we simply accept that a woman is a hysterical bitch etc etc. But that’s not what this passage is actually saying, because the women described in the passage are the ones who are jealous and possessive and refuse to respect boundaries, right? So the inadvertent message here, to me, is that when a woman is actually jealous and possessive and refuses to respect boundaries, we should simply look at her male partner and figure out what he did to “drive her to it.” I sincerely hope that this is just writing that could have used more editing and not the intended message here.

I actually really like the fundamental premise that a princess who grows up in a horribly sexist world decides that instalove with a handsome boy will save her from her troubles, but then she ultimately realizes her own power and saves herself. She realizes that the prince who sweeps you off your feet (tail?) is just a dream and no man is worth mutilating and silencing yourself for. That’s more or less what happens here, but, as I mentioned, a huge problem is that all of her learning and character development happens at the very end, in the final conversation with the Sea Witch, and she simply spends the rest of her time on land as Oliver’s devoted second shadow. It could have been so much more effective, especially if she had interacted with interesting women on the surface. As it is, there is just Oliver’s mother - a girlboss facing the glass ceiling who is injudiciously hated by her son but hates Gaia just as much as Oliver hates her - and Gaia’s devoted servant who brews her gallons of homemade pain medicine and tends to her disintegrating feet every day.

And at the end of the day, Gaia's final realization about Oliver isn’t actually that she shouldn’t have tortured herself for his sake and pinned all of her hopes on a man she didn’t know - it’s that she was wrong in thinking men just cared about good looks - they actually like a girl who is smart and funny and has interesting opinions. Why is that the limit of how far the envelope is pushed for this part of the story - why is The Lesson about Oliver still about how to win a man?

Of course, the story goes further in the last bit when she That’s definitely a much stronger ending, but I do question the efficacy of her transformation into a powerful new form being predicated on . I don’t know - I think different readers will feel differently about that bit.

The book does its best to cover so many topics - eugenics, colonialism, gay rights, body image, corporate sexism, beauty standards, rape culture, abuse - but it ends up reducing each one to a surface level line or two in one of Gaia’s monologues, and none of it is handled with a great amount of nuance or depth. There were a few moments that felt so horribly on the nose to me, like when Gaia dismisses Zale’s sexist comment as “just mer-man talk - stop being so sensitive” or talks about the underwater kingdom being “made great again” by her father’s rule.

A few final notes - we never really explore the fact that Gaia chooses to kill Oliver’s girlfriend in order to save his life, and the fact that she is able to do so doesn’t even make sense. The Salkas specifically prey on human men for their misandrist revenge, so why would they accept a teenage girl in his place? Occasionally it is almost like the author forgets what setting she is writing in, both underwater on the surface. There are a few times that she describes the environment in the mermaid kingdom as “the air” and at one point Gaia inexplicably refers to a conch shell by its Latin name. I can’t fathom why Oliver and his family don’t attempt to teach Gaia sign language or how to read and write once they realize she is mute and illiterate. And on the point of that muteness…I ended up consulting with Goodreads because the day after Ceto cuts out Gaia’s tongue, she is able to happily eat a bowl of porridge. My friends’ estimates of the damage done by a cut-out tongue varied widely, but one and all agreed that you definitely wouldn’t be able to eat the next day. I KNOW that Ceto doesn’t use witch magic to heal her, either, because when the human doctor inspects her, everyone is horrified by the raw wound in her mouth!!!!! Finally, the writing is neutral overall but the mermaid characters switch between saying “okay” to each other and using pseudo-fantasy language. The strangest bit of writing to me is when Gaia imagines herself doing something difficult and, referring to herself, says “it is heavy, is it not, little one?”

I’ve now been talking about feminist mermaids for a long time. Too long, perhaps? In any case, this one really did not work for me at all. For books that I personally prefer in the YA Feminist Fairy Tale Genre, I would recommend Stepsister and Damsel.
Profile Image for Gabriela Pop.
726 reviews157 followers
April 22, 2018
CW: fatshaming,homophobia,mentions of suicide,domestic violence,sexual harassment

Disclaimer: I have read and loved all of Louise’s previous work and I love her newspaper pieces but this one just wasn’t for me and that’s that,so don’t come at me,please.

For once,I quite honestly have no idea how to rate this.Most of it was floating (lmao,get it?) in a meh kind of space,while the last 30 pages or so felt so strong.However,all of that being said,boy were the lows so low and did it really feel like there was a real disconnect between that really good last 10% and the rest of the book.
I think what did the book the biggest disservice was actually the hype that was built around it.This kept being sold to me as this worldshattering feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid and … pass.It felt a lot (a feeling that is heightened by watching interviews and by that letter from the editor or lord knows who at the beginning of the proof) that the research into the origin of the original Little Mermaid wasn’t quite there (sozz,Hans Christian Andersen,you remain the real bae) and this was more of an edgy and gritty Disney Little Mermaid on steroids for the most part with elements of the original sprinkled in to add to that whole dark depth of the story.Feminist,alas,it was not until those last 30 pages and even that is somewhat questionable.Allow me to elaborate.
Our little mermaid was a product of a deeply patriarchal society and though I’d like to give her a pass due to her circumstances not being the best,I gotta say that homegirl was pretty bigoted herself,not to mention judgemental.It’s truly amazing how much one can go on the whole girl hating,fatshaming (alas,reader,let me tell you that after her seeing a fat woman for the first time in her life and saying “I did not know such a body was even allowed to exist”,I still feel sick to my stomach and absolutely disgusted and hurt).She cannot fathom someone can be not straight; it’s 2018,janet,people are gay,it shouldn’t really take you so long to get over that.Naturally,the sisters did not get on in the slightest and went after each other for 90% of the book as well,because of course.The whole mermaid society was just such a painful patriarchy overall.
That being said,the whole worldbuilding itself was just iffy at best.I think Louise is great at critiques of society and our very own patriarchy,but her fantasy seemed to have very blurred lines,very questionable rules and edges.At times,it felt a lot like she forgot the whole thing was taking place underwater and it did feel like she had issues remembering the events weren’t happening to your run of the mill teenagers on land.
Anyway,I did love the Sea Witch and wish we had seen more of her,but what can ya’ do.
I’m still going to pick up whatever else Louise puts out because of my favourable past experiences with her books,but this one was just a bit of a headache for me.
Profile Image for Miriam.
43 reviews2 followers
May 8, 2018
A book by Louise O'Neill? A fairytale retelling? Feminist?

This should have been everything I wanted. But it wasn't.

I read Almost Love when it came out and I can't help but wonder if maybe writing the two booms at the same time damaged this one. I had my issues with Almost Love but at least it was always written in O'Neill's startling, crisp prose. How I wish I could say the same for this. For the most part, the writing was very heavy handed, and she was constantly trying to point out feminist issues, but felt the need to spell everything out for us. For instance, the girls always did as their father told them, and after every time they did, she would say, "good girls always do as they're told" or something along those lines. Nothing was left for us to figure out about her intentions with this book and it lost a lot of charm for that.

But the prose isn't even feminist. It's just pointing out issues, and no one making any difference. Gaia doesn't have any character development until the very end, and the ending to me, was unsatisfying and also not feminist Very few of the characters are anything more than vague outlines.

I also felt like the worldbuilding was thin, the mer world was never really developed. Then when we got to land, I had no idea what country or time period we were meant to be in, and there's a big discussion about civil unrest "on the islands" - what islands? We know it's the real world because Ireland is mentioned, but it feels like she was too lazy to set it somewhere.

Overall, I was expecting much more, and I was bitterly disappointed.
Profile Image for Scrill.
407 reviews204 followers
Want to read
February 10, 2018
Retelling of The Little Mermaid with a dash of feminism? Yes please!

ALSO, that cover is gorgeous!!
Profile Image for Es Summer .
72 reviews161 followers
June 7, 2018
"They estimate the beauty of each passing girl. Listing pros and cons to their friends as if it is their decision to make, that the girl's beauty will be determined by their opinions rather than objective fact, because they are men and a man's word is final. The girls, knowing the men are watching them but pretending to be unaware, performing a calculated innocence they have been told they must possess."

Sappy, the retelling of The Little Mermaid is sappy and mellow.
It's a feministic retelling of the original story, but I must confess that most of the time it felt like reading the original story again. ^.^
Louise O'Neill has written Asking for it, one of the most interesting, clever and heartbreaking books about rape culture, victim blaming, gender discrimination and feminism. That book was almost audacious with the boldness of the context, the brutal and daring way of storytelling and not being afraid of the consequences.
The Surface Breaks does have those little moments of bold and clever writing, but mostly it portrays a sweet little mermaid wanting to be pretty, is obedient, expects true love to fix it all and her naivety is almost endearing if it wasn't annoying and surprising from the fact that the same author who has written such a bold novel about rape chooses the safe road by her newest novel.

The way the story is portrayed is interesting, the world of the mermaids, the kingdom and hierarchy. The mythology worked out well and that aspect of the story didn't bother me. My problems were with the way the author chose to tell the story. The classical retelling has remained the same way and although it worked for the original story, I did expect some changes and a more feminist outcome, a stronger protagonist and in this novel that was lacking.
I understand that the author chose for the safe road to enlightening, but it could have been more daring and bold.

2 stars.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
558 reviews112 followers
December 2, 2018
I really liked this one! Sure, it wasn't perfect, but it was actually so much better than I expected. This one has got a lot of negative reviews, so I was expecting to kind of feel ehhh about it, but it blew my expectations out of the water (no pun intended). The Little Mermaid is one of my favourite fairy tales, and I thought this was a really well done retelling. And so many feminist vibes! I admit, it was a little simplistic, and there were some things that I wasn't enjoying at first, but after a while you start to realise that they are there for a reason? By no means is this book enjoyable as such, with characters you can fall in love with and a story that takes you on a wild ride, but at the same time it is very powerful, and that is what spoke to me most.


- I really like the writing style, for one, despite the fact that it was written in my least favourite style: first person present tense. For some reason, here it didn't bug my too much? There were so many pretty words and it had that real fairytale vibe to it. It had such a good atmosphere - well, not good, but well crafted . I thought it was really effective.

- I do wish the characters were a little more developed, especially the other mermaid sisters because I love reading about groups of girls and all their different personalities. And I feel like Gaia was a bit of a mouthpiece for what the author wanted to say. The characters were definitely the weakest aspect of the book, but I think it was supposed to be more about the message than what the normal elements of the story are.

- The things that really started to bug me a little way in was the instalove. I was super annoyed because I was really enjoying the book up until that point. But as the book goes on, you start to realise that the instalove was intentional, and that the main character was supposed to be really naïve because she was brought up and kept that way by the men in her family and around her. We could see this in the Sea Witch's reaction (she was flipping awesome by the way). Gaia was in love with the idea of someone and she eventually realised that her image was incorrect.

- The last chapter was amazing. 'nuff said.

This was so much better than I was expecting! It has stirred up a lot of mixed feelings but I personally thought it was really good. I do think that it doesn't really follow the same sort of route as a normal book in an attempt to shout this message loud and clear once and for all. But it is such an important message, and it needs to be heard. This book is so important and no matter whether you like it or not, you cannot deny that the voice it carries (omg was that another little mermaid reference???). I recommend!
Profile Image for Anabel.
654 reviews115 followers
March 3, 2019
Puntuación: 3,5

Me ha gustado como afronta un tema tan importante como es quererse a una misma y ver qué no somos menos que nadie, un libro que puede considerarse un cuento con un gran mensaje para las mujeres, una versión de La Sirenita de Disney pero más real y más crudo y una ambientación en la actualidad. Desde cierta parte engancha mucho ya que el principio es muy introductorio para mi gusto. Me hubiera gustado algo más de desarrollo en la historia y en los personajes pero ha valido la pena sin duda darle una oportunidad.
Profile Image for Nieves ✨.
943 reviews1,072 followers
May 10, 2021
3'5 🌟 Ha sido el segundo retelling de La Sirenita que leo y me ha gustado aunque esperaba un poco más de él. Ha sido una lectura sorprendente por todos los giros que nos vamos encontrando pero, también ha habido momentos que me he enfadado porque no lograba entender los comportamientos de la protagonistas. Eso sí, he visto una clara evolución en ella a pesar de esos pequeños momentos de discordancia con ella. Es una historia oscura y brutal, la primera parte me ha encantado por las descripciones de la ambientación y he disfrutado mucho descubriendo las profundidades. En referente al final, algo sospechaba pero no pensé que iba a terminar de la manera en que lo hace y eso me ha conquistado pero, a la vez necesitaba algo más porque me ha parecido un tanto precipitado. Os recomiendo este libro porque es una lectura ligera y cruda que entre sus páginas esconde un mensaje feminista de vital importancia.

"Soñar Con La Superficie" es una historia cruel, realista y oscura que narrada desde un punto de vista feminista. Una lectura ágil y entretenida que está repleta de mensajes que te harán reflexionar.

Reseña completa: https://aprovechalavidacadadiaa.blogs...

Profile Image for Krissysch.
260 reviews30 followers
July 17, 2018
Dieses Buch ist eine Nacherzählung von Andersens Kleiner Meerjungfrau, allerdings wunderbar düster. Die Protagonistin Gaia fand ich super, denn im Gegensatz zu ihren Schwestern beginnt sie, die Regierung ihres Vaters und den Stand der weiblichen Meermenschen zu hinterfragen. Auch die Stimmung und der Schreibstil waren toll, märchenhaft, düster und sehr atmosphärisch. Nur das Ende kam mir etwas zu abrupt, da hätte ich die ein oder andere Seite mehr toll gefunden. Ansonsten aber definitiv eine Empfehlung für alle Liebhaber von düsteren Märchen und Meerjungfrauen.
Profile Image for gabi maria ❀.
199 reviews46 followers
May 13, 2018
DNF @ 15%

yeah... not for me, after only 2 chapters...
1. sister hate, i'm not about that life
2. the main character saying "if you keep behaving like that no man will want you" or some bullshit like that
3. her FATHER, the sea king "If Muirgen were not my daughter, perhaps I would have chosen her for myself" CRINGE and she's only fifteen
Profile Image for Innastholiel.
466 reviews60 followers
May 23, 2018
So I’m finally getting around to reviewing this travesty. Like two weeks after I finished it, but I was moving and didn’t have internet, so there.

Look. Look. I’ve already said multiple times that I don’t like The Little Mermaid or any adaptation of Andersen’s original fairytale. I don’t even like the Disney movie, because Sebastian is fucking annoying and most of the songs are terrible, yet get stuck in my head whenever I hear or think of them like some godawful parasite from another dimension. But The Surface Breaks has a really pretty cover, and even though all my alarm bells went off when I read “feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid”, I ordered it anyway, because fuck it, I thought, I’m totally in for this even if this turns into a terrible shitshow.

It’s true, I do. Some things are just so fun to see crash and burn. Sadly, The Surface Breaks was more aggravating than anything else, really, because


Spring breaks slowly that year, spilling light through the water. The eggs hatch, the next generation of mer-babies unfurling themselves in a new world. There are more girls born this year than ever before. I want to tell them to be careful. I want to tell them to swim away at first light. I want to hold a pillow over their mewling faces and bury their last breath inside their mouths. They would be safe then, safe from men who watch them all the time. Men who come to your bedroom every night, demanding you pay the toll for their silence.


And then they blame us, as men have always blamed women, for prompting their lust, for fuelling their insatiable greed for something they cannot have.


I’m beginning to wonder that if, when we call a woman crazy, we should take a look at the man by her side, and guess at what he has done to drive her to insanity.


Women are not holy, nor are they the victims of male violence no matter the circumstances. Women are just as capable of gratuitous violence, and men aren’t fundamentally incapable of controlling their urges. To paint men as inherently violent animals and women as saints who only do evil because of the things men have done to them is just … it’s wrong. I won’t have it. Not only is it despicable to blame someone else, regardless of their gender, for your actions, it is infantilising in the worst possible way. Look at the poor thing, if only Event™ hadn’t happened, she’d be a scientist on the verge of solving world hunger. Please spare me.

You know what else isn’t feminism?

Something hardens inside me, and I allow it to happen. Nay, I welcome it. I will be hard. I will be made of ice.

Arguably poor choice of words aside, .

Still, I’m kinda sad I didn’t like this book, because it actually takes the insta-love thing and rips it to shreds. I loathe the insta-love thing, because the characters are always like,

while I’m always like,

because, Jesus fucking Christ, you people met like five minutes ago, so why do you think you are soulmates?!

Sadly, the whole thing still doesn’t work in The Surface Breaks, because of all I’ve said already, and because .

This renunciation of the insta-love trope also doesn’t work here because it essentially shoots itself in the foot with this:

They were attracted to each other, certainly, and like so many before them they mistook their lust for love.

But subtlety is for suckers, I guess, and nuance for nerds, and we can’t trust readers to be intelligent enough to see shades of grey. The solution, apparently, is to paint everything in black and white, making the whole lot as simple as it could possibly be.

I’m just frustrated at this point, you know? I’m tired of angry “feminism”, I’m tired of mediocre writing in even more mediocre stories. I’m tired of Important Messages™ being delivered to a reader’s mind via sledgehammer, leaving no room for discussion or scrutiny. And I’m tired of people thinking it’s okay to ridicule someone behind their back. . I am tired of people not treating touch like the privilege it is. If you partake in this privilege to any extent, if someone trusts you with their body in any way, you do not turn around and talk about it behind their backs. What the fuck is wrong with you?

In conclusion, read Circe. It is better at everything without putting itself in the box of claiming to be a feminist retelling of a myth. It still is, imo, and much better than this book on every single level I can think of. It has a grasp on the source material The Surface Breaks can only ever dream of, and not only because The Little Mermaid has hardly influenced modern society in the way Greek myth has. It has better characters, handles the issues it raises better, and manages to impart complexity to even the most minor of characters.

In further conclusion, why do I even keep reading retellings of The Little Mermaid? I don’t know. Please save me.
Profile Image for ⭐Anny⭐ (Book Princess) .
436 reviews262 followers
February 11, 2021
"Living true is the most important thing any woman can do."
3.5 stars...but this is very difficult to rate

I discovered this book in the children's section in the bookstore and bought it mostly because of the pretty cover and because The Little Mermaid was and is my favorite Disney movie. I expected some cute, magical retelling. OH how wrong I was.

The Surface Breaks is definitely a retelling - but not one for children. It's an intense, raw and very feminist take on the well known story. It is dark, twisted, and I can not wholeheartedly say I enjoyed it. It's still a good book and I'd definitely recommend it!

This book deals with some important and relevant topics, such as women being subject to men and existing solely for men's pleasure. According to the world of this novel, a woman has to look pretty and be silent. She is not of the same worth as a man. And while this may not be the case in the world I know, it is definitely true in other parts of our world. This book deals with a young woman (mermaid) struggling with her place in the only world she knows: her tyrannical father's kingdom. Gaia wants more than what she knows, but that journey will be a terrifying one. She will discover love, lust and the pain that comes with it.

At this point, it might be appropriate to give out a trigger warning: There is sexual assault and mutilation in this book! I have to admit, I was quite shocked and at points actually disgusted by the world. And not only by the world the mer-people live in, aka a tyrannical monarchy, but also by the human world. Many humans are displayed as power hungry and again, the book clearly shows how much harder women have to work to achieve the same as men.

On a more positive note, I loved the ending! It was unexpected and empowering! I could not see it coming and I'm not gonna spoil it.

So don't let the pretty, dreamy cover fool you - The Surface Breaks is not a children's book but a very mature ya novel, and an important one. The writing is gripping and fluent, the MC believable and the pacing is good too. A great book in its very own way!
(And maybe you now see why this is so hard to rate ;))
Profile Image for Divine.
333 reviews167 followers
July 12, 2018
Again, these types of books have thwarted my initial impressions. I never really expected much from this one, to be honest, yet it had completely stumped my meager expectations to no end.
“There was no one there to hear them scream 'no'. Or maybe there was; but that 'no' wasn’t deemed worthy of being heard. Maybe they heard it and they didn’t care. A woman’s 'no' can so easily be turned into a 'yes' by men who do not want to listen.”
This book is a reminder and a portrayal of every ounce of feminism we need in our lives. This does not stray too far from its theme as to point fingers to who the victim and the suspects are; it simply narrates the crucial bitter truths of misogyny in all its facets. This retelling encapsulates fundamental lessons in our every day lives that we had acknowledged yet had not fully understood and applied. It is funny how beneath that colorful and innocent cover lies a dark trail of thorns and tears. I have certain problems with the writing sometimes, but to be honest, I think this book fairly deserves a 5-star rating because of the significant points it had delivered effectively. This is one retelling I would never forget.
“We are women. And women are warriors, after all.”
Profile Image for Ezgi Tülü.
415 reviews1,105 followers
July 20, 2018
“The women always get blamed. Have you noticed that? The wives are nags. The mistress is a bitch for betraying the sisterhood. And the men just fall through the cracks in between. We expect so little from our boys, don’t we, Grace?”
Profile Image for JenacideByBibliophile.
209 reviews127 followers
August 21, 2019
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic, via Edelweiss+ for an honest review.


“’How much you are prepared to give up for one you know so little.’”

This isn’t The Little Mermaid tale you know and love.


It’s dark.

It’s painful.

It’s every hurt, wound and fear in your soul that you’ve been unable to express in words.

This book is for the girls who need to know their worth.

For the women who need reminding.

For the boys who must learn to be gentle.

And the men who need to be shown.

“A Woman’s no can so easily be turned into a yes by men who do not want to listen.”

These waters are dark and deep, so tread carefully.

“Either I am silent above the surface, or I spend the rest of my life screaming for mercy down here, the water muffling my cries.”


Gaia knows what it means to live in silence. To listen and obey her father, the Sea King, for his word is law and he is generous. To only speak when spoken to, to keep her tail and physique in pristine condition, and to never deny the wants of a man. But what Gaia truly yearns for is to know why her mother left them for the human world. What it is like above the surface, and how to escape her arranged marriage to a brutal man who looks at her with dominance and greed in his eyes. As her fifteenth birthday nears, like all mermaids, Gaia will have the chance to break the surface and glimpse at what resides above the water. But when her desires to be free of her tail and to escape her future turns to desperation, she makes a deal that will change her life forever.

“Muireann of the Green Sea cursed me with wanderlust and a thirst for dry air that could not be quenched.”


The Surface Breaks is the heartbreaking feminist reimagining that I have been needing all year. It beautifully details the sorrows, desperation and fear that women feel on a regular basis. That they are less than, that they are only wanted for their looks, and that they must strip themselves bare in order to be pleasing, worthy or loved. It portrays the life of a young girl and her sisters who have been taught that they are decoration for the pleasure of men, and that their desires are wrong and unnatural if they do not fit into the opinions of men that have been made into law.

“Please don’t touch me, I want to say, but I know that a woman’s body may always be touched if so desired. I am blessed to attract such attention. Everyone says it, so it must be true.”

Gaia is a sweet, gentle, innocent and delicate young girl who yearns to understand why her mother abandoned her. Just like Ariel, she is deeply attracted to the human world by the trinkets and baubles that she has been able to collect on the ocean floor. Her father tells the girls that their mother was weak and gave into her obsession to reside with the humans, and it resulted in her eventual death and capture at their hands.


It was incredibly difficult experiencing Gaia’s sadness and feelings of hopelessness as she went through the motions of her life. She is one of several sisters who are forced to be subservient, to attain a certain level of constant beauty and appeal, and who are married off by the desires and convenience of their father.

“I am the diamond in my father’s crown, and he is determined to wear me as such.”

This book has a dark and nauseating undertone that is necessary to the story, but still very hard to sit with. Gaia is betrothed to a man who is beyond creepy, inappropriate and vile. He treats her as if she is nothing but a doll that has been made for his pleasure and amusement, and she has no say in the matter. I felt suffocated and sick watching her character be treated so horribly. This book touches on some VERY serious themes that may be disturbing for some, so be weary. After all, Gaia was ONLY TWELVE when her father arranged her marriage to a man in his 60’s!

“His lips against my check, too close to my mouth. It is as if he wants to peel my skin away from my body and taste it on his tongue.”

“The nausea might subside when we are bonded”

But the theme of Gaia and the women in The Surface Breaks having zero control over their own lives is a constant! If a mermaid isn’t pretty, thin or appealing enough to the Sea King or any men in the kingdom, they are banished. Gaia is forced to give up her voice in order to be near the man she loves, and the Rusalka girls are treated as vile creatures hell-bent on bringing out destruction. The despair that these beautiful women feel is screaming through these pages, trying desperately to be heard. My heart was aching throughout this read, and I still feel a sense of loss and anger as I sit here typing away.

“’And the pain?’” I ask. ‘Will that go away?’

‘Oh no,’ she replies. ‘But women are meant to suffer.’”

The romance in this story is also an unconventional one. It has honestly left me feeling hopeless for romance in real life, and just reinforces my opinion that book boyfriends are the ONLY boyfriends you should EVER allow in your home. Because the feelings and relationship that Gaia has with Oliver will be able to resonate with EVERY female. That feeling of giving everything about yourself away to gain the attention of a boy. How we so quickly and easily shred, distort and disfigure ourselves in order to feel a glimpse of love from another.

“…I sewed my own mouth shut in the hopes that a boy I barely knew could kiss it open again.”

“All the things that I have ignored about this man in order to make the narrative of true love and destiny fit. I tried to make him as perfect as I needed him to be.”


I am so blown away by the love and intent that was put into this book. Every sentence is purposeful, every feeling, detailed and poetically written. I had SO many emotions racing through me while reading! I wanted nothing more than to reach into my kindle and wrap my arms around these girls. To protect them and tell them it will be okay…even when sometimes, it wouldn’t be okay. This book REALLY hits home and strikes hard.

To be honest, I could probably write this review with only quotes that I highlighted from this book, and that would be reason enough for you to want to buy it immediately. It is a beautiful and distressing tale, but it is a tale with an immensely important message. To know your worth and to stand up for yourself. To care for one another. To treat women with respect. To not shed who you are for the pleasure of another.

Please read this.

“’A woman needs to be strong to survive.’”

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